#90
Returns/Retours

Six Poems

Tasos Leivaditis

Translated by N.N. Trakakis

Born and raised in Athens, Tasos Leivaditis (1922–1988) worked as a literary critic for a leftist newspaper and achieved both critical and popular renown in Greece for his rich poetic oeuvre. His involvement as a youth in leftist politics led to his imprisonment for more than three years. Soon after his release in 1951 he made his poetic debut, and he was to go on to publish twenty volumes of poetry as well as a collection of short stories, winning along the way Greece’s highest honour in poetry (the State Poetry Prize, in 1979).

Dr N.N. (“Nick”) Trakakis teaches philosophy at the Australian Catholic University, and also writes, edits and translates poetry. His philosophical publications include The God Beyond Belief (Springer, 2007) and The End of Philosophy of Religion (Continuum, 2008). He edited Southern Sun, Aegean Light: Poetry of Second-Generation Greek-Australians (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2011), and his translations of Leivaditis include The Blind Man with the Lamp (Denise Harvey Publications, 2014) and Violets for a Season (Red Dragonfly Press, 2017).

from Night Visitor (1972)

RETURN

Deep down, however, I knew that everything would suddenly be thwarted by something unforeseen (I had to protect it, and there was no safe place), and such was their indifference that when I heard them talking I felt as though I had never grown up, and as I was walking along the street, forlorn, I stretched out my arm even though no one was there, for who says there’s no one there waiting? then there was a knock at the door, “how did you get here?” I asked, he was an old childhood friend, “I still have something to finish,” he said, and all night I heard him sobbing in the next room, for he had died very young and came back to weep, so that his mission on earth might be fulfilled.

INDUSTRIOUS

Deep down I knew that one day I would betray myself, I always made sure therefore to stand in the shadows, in this way I gradually became imperceptible, until the divine obscurity which makes outcasts have no need of coat or hat arrived, and when we buried her, well endowed as she was from her last days, she would often come back even though they didn’t notice her, because it is only the humble, in virtue of their gift of ignoring futility, who encounter the dead on the street, and when I was changing her bedcovers one night I found the rose, outside of the world, “don’t cry, I’m myself now,” she said to me with that deceptive silence of the dead, until the days and nights weren’t enough and I had to put the house at peace with the nonexistent, and industrious as I am, if I had nothing to do I followed the garden hedge which disappeared into the distance, like the stories we never lived out and which return intact to God.

     

from Autumn Manuscripts (1990)

JOURNEYS

Many wonder how I lived—they don’t realize that I was always
away,
journeys to the unbelievable when we were children, journeys to
the infinite when we were in love
journeys from one room to the other, from one star to the other,
oh, journey to the unrealizable!
and Martha in old age continued her embroidery for years
she had journeyed far into nothingness and had come back
unblemished and unhappy —
my poor ones, as the twilight sprinkles the world with gold,
journeys are made to deserted wharves, to broken mirrors,
to years that have disappeared
because I, you scoundrels, didn’t come here to play
but to suffer and to lose myself —
a downpour of old wings for nothing other than the mystery of
it all.
And only poetry is not the journey
but the bitter return.

     

AFTERNOON COMMENTARY

Night was falling and the passersby looked like ghosts on the
windows
a child hid behind the couch, their silence is already an abyss,
their solitary sensuality the most perfect form of eros,
two former lovers meet on the stairs, what do they have to say
brief explanations that deepen the inexplicable,
the time when you knock on a door just to hear a voice—nobody,
they must have moved, everyone is moving house, what
are they trying to escape from?
you meet someone and ask for an address, but they don’t
understand you, for some time now you have been
speaking a language unknown to others,
keys you threw down the drain, one night you discover them on
the table
mirrors in which we saw youth departing.

And then from the depths the sound of the station clock tolling
eight times
that hour that will never return.

     

RETURN

One evening as the wind blew through the open window the curtain flapped a little and then rested on the edge of the chair like a friend coming back from the place of no return. To be sure he will not stay long. It’s just that I am worried. Over the last years the layout of the city has been quickly changing and soon how will our dead friends be able to find us? That’s why at every street corner we must place some sign: a group of children singing, a coffee-house with lowered lights, or a watch buried in the garden. Even though they now know the time. Quiet!

     

ADOLESCENCE

There are some nights when only a single sigh separates us from
Paradise
and other times the moon rises above the hill like a great joy
wanderings at night and the louvres through which we dimly
saw a woman in her underwear as she was sleeping
and suddenly at the turn of the road the sadness of a lamppost
inundated us with tears.

No one was waiting for us when we returned.